, Volume 155, Issue 2, pp 397–403 | Cite as

Can variation in risk of nest predation explain altitudinal migration in tropical birds?

  • W. Alice BoyleEmail author
Behavioral Ecology - Original Paper


Migration is among the best studied of animal behaviors, yet few empirical studies have tested hypotheses explaining the ultimate causes of these cyclical annual movements. Fretwell’s (1980) hypothesis predicts that if nest predation explains why many tropical birds migrate uphill to breed, then predation risk must be negatively associated with elevation. Data from 385 artificial nests spanning 2,740 m of elevation on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica show an overall decline in predation with increasing elevation. However, nest predation risk was highest at intermediate elevations (500–650 m), not at lowest elevations. The proportion of nests depredated by different types of predators differed among elevations. These results imply that over half of the altitudinal migrant bird species in this region migrate to safer breeding areas than their non-breeding areas, suggesting that variation in nest predation risk could be an important benefit of uphill migrations of many species.


Costa Rica Elevational gradients Evolution of migration Tropical rainforest 



C. Conway, J. Bronstein, B. Enquist, D. Papaj, R. Steidl, B. Boyle, S. Robinson, an anonymous reviewer, and the Conway and Bronstein lab groups provided valuable criticism of earlier drafts of this manuscript. M. Burke, J. Brokaw, M. Lord, R. Repasky, and J. Wolfe assisted with grueling field work. C. Valledeperas donated 500 canary eggs. J. Losos, M. Nachman, and M. Williams helped with imprint ID. J. Guevara (MINAE), R. Tenorio (ACCVC), the directors and staff of BCNP, La Selva Biological Station, Rara Avis, and Selva Tica granted permits. Grants from NSF (DDIG DEB-0410531), NSERC (PGS-B fellowship), the Silliman Award, the Center for Insect Science, and the University of Arizona helped finance fieldwork. The work presented here complied with all laws governing research in Costa Rica.

Supplementary material

442_2007_897_MOESM1_ESM.tif (22.4 mb)
Location and elevation of eight study sites on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica: La Selva Biological Station (LS1 and LS2), 40 m and 120 m; near the Quebrada Gonzalez ranger station (QB) in Braulio Carrillo National Park (BCNP), 500 m; Selva Tica reserve (ST), 650 m; Rara Avis reserve (RA), 820 m; near the Puesto Zurquí ranger station in BCNP (PZ), 1650 m; near the Chateau Barva refuge in BCNP (CB), 2050 m; near the peak of Barva volcano in BCNP (BV), 2780 m (TIF 22895 kb)


  1. Alerstam T (1990) Bird migration. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Alerstam T, Enckell PH (1979) Unpredictable habitats and evolution of bird migration. Oikos 33:228–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alerstam T, Hedenström A, Åkesson S (2003) Long-distance migration: evolution and determinants. Oikos 103:247–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berthold P (2001) Bird migration: a general survey, 2nd edn. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  5. Blake JG, Loiselle BA (2000) Diversity of birds along an elevational gradient in the Cordillera Central, Costa Rica. Auk 117:663–686CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boyle WA (2006) Why do birds migrate? The role of food, habitat, predation, and competition. PhD thesis, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.Google Scholar
  7. Burgess ND, Mlingwa COF (2000) Evidence for altitudinal migration of forest birds between montane Eastern Arc and lowland forests in East Africa. Ostrich 71:184–190Google Scholar
  8. Burke DM, et al. (2004) Patterns of nest predation on artificial and natural nests in forests. Conserv Biol 18:381–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chaves-Campos J (2004) Elevational movements of large frugivorous birds and temporal variation in abundance of fruits along an elevational gradient. Ornitol Neotrop 15:433–445Google Scholar
  10. Chaves-Campos J, Arévalo JE, Araya M (2003) Altitudinal movements and conservation of bare-necked Umbrellabird Cephalopteris glabricollis of the Tilarán Mountains, Costa Rica. Bird Conserv Int 13:45–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chesser RT, Levey DJ (1998) Austral migrants and the evolution of migration in New World birds: diet, habitat and migration revisited. Am Nat 152:311–319CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Conway CJ, Martin TE (2000) Evolution of passerine incubation behavior: influence of food, temperature, and nest predation. Evolution 54:670–685PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Davison WB, Bollinger E (2000) Predation rates on real and artificial nests of grassland birds. Auk 117:147–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dingle H (1996) Migration: the biology of life on the move. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  15. Faaborg J (2004) Truly artificial nest studies. Conserv Biol 18:269–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fretwell SD (1980) Evolution of migration in relation to factors regulating bird numbers. In: Keast A, Morton ES (eds) Migrant birds in the Neotropics. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., pp 517–527Google Scholar
  17. Fu CZ, et al. (2007) Elevational gradients of diversity for lizards and snakes in the Hengduan Mountains, China. Biodivers Conserv 16:707–726CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gauthreaux SA (1996) Bird migration: methodologies and major research trajectories (1945–1995). Condor 98:442–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ghalambor CK, Martin TE (2001) Fecundity-survival trade-offs and parental risk-taking in birds. Science 292:494–497PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gómez LD, Herrera W (1986) Vegetación y Clima de Costa Rica. Editorial Universidad Estatal a Distancia, San JoséGoogle Scholar
  21. Greenberg R (1980) Demographic aspects of long-distance migration. In: Keast A, Morton ES (eds) Migrant birds in the Neotropics. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., pp 493–504Google Scholar
  22. Hensler GL, Nichols JD (1981) The Mayfield method of estimating nesting success: a model, estimators and simulation results. Wilson Bull 93:42–53Google Scholar
  23. Hofer U, Bersier LF, Borcard D (1999) Spatial organization of a herpetofauna on an elevational gradient revealed by null model tests. Ecology 80:976–988CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson DH (1979) Estimating nest success: the Mayfield method and an alternative. Auk 96:651–661Google Scholar
  25. Johnson DN, Maclean GL (1994) Altitudinal migration in Natal. Ostrich 65:86–94Google Scholar
  26. Keast A (1995) The Nearctic–Neotropical bird migration system. Isr J Zool 41:455–470Google Scholar
  27. Loiselle BA, Blake JG (1991) Temporal variation in birds and fruits along an elevational gradient in Costa Rica. Ecology 72:180–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Major RE, Kendal CE (1996) The contribution of artificial nest experiments to understanding avian reproductive success: a review of methods and conclusions. Ecology 138:298–307Google Scholar
  29. Marini MA, Melo C (1998) Predators of quail eggs, and the evidence of the remains: implications for nest predation studies. Condor 100:395–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Martin TE (1993) Nest predation among vegetation layers and habitat types: revising the dogmas. Am Nat 141:897–913CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Martin TE, Martin PR, Olson CR, Heidinger BJ, Fontaine JJ (2000) Parental care and clutch sizes in North and South American birds. Science 287:1482–1485PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moore RP, Robinson WD (2004) Artificial bird nests, external validity, and bias in ecological field studies. Ecology 85:1562–1567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Morton ES (1977) Intra-tropical migration in yellow-green vireo and piratic flycatcher. Auk 94:97–106Google Scholar
  34. Pärt T, Wretenberg J (2002) Do artificial nests reveal relative nest predation risk for real nests? J Avian Biol 33:39–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ramos-Olmos MA (1983) Seasonal movements of bird populations at a Neotropical study site in southern Veracruz, Mexico. PhD thesis, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.Google Scholar
  36. Rangen SA, Clark RG, Hobson KA (2000) Visual and olfactory attributes of artificial nests. Auk 117:136–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Robinson WD, Robinson TR (2001) Observations of predation events at bird nests in central Panama. J Field Ornithol 72:43–48Google Scholar
  38. Robinson WD, Robinson TR, Robinson SK, Brawn JD (2000) Nesting success of understory forest birds in central Panama. J Avian Biol 31:151–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rosselli L (1994) The annual cycle of the White-ruffed Manakin, Corapipo leucorrhoa, a tropical frugivorous altitudinal migrant, and its food plants. Bird Conserv Int 4:143–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Scott NJ (1976) The abundance and diversity of herpetofaunas of tropical forest litter. Biotropica 8:41–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sieving KE (1992) Nest predation and differential insular extinction among selected forest birds of central Panama. Ecology 73:2310–2328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Skutch AF (1985) Clutch size, nesting success, and predation on nests of Neotropical birds, reviewed. In: Buckley PA, Foster MS, Morton ES, Ridgely RS, Buckley FG (eds) Neotropical ornithology, vol 36. The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C., pp 575–594Google Scholar
  43. Solórzano S, Castillo S, Valverde T, Avila L (2000) Quetzal abundance in relation to fruit availability in a cloud forest of southeastern Mexico. Biotropica 32:523–532Google Scholar
  44. Stiles FG (1983) Birds. In: Janzen DH (ed) Costa Rican natural history. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL., pp 502–530Google Scholar
  45. Stiles FG, Skutch AF (1989) A field guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.Google Scholar
  46. Thompson FR, Burhans DE (2004) Differences in predators of artificial and real songbird nests: evidence of bias in artificial nest studies. Conserv Biol 18:373–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Villard MA, Pärt T (2004) Don’t put all your eggs in real nests: a sequel to Faaborg. Conserv Biol 18:371–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Weatherhead PJ, Bloun-Demers G (2004) Understanding avian nest predation: why ornithologists should study snakes. J Avian Biol 35:185–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyThe University of Western OntarioLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations